Archibald heads to Harvard after making impact on Montville

Montville High School senior Joshua Archibald on Tuesday, May 22, 2018, at the school's courtyard.  Archibald, who is a member of the choir and class president, is headed to Harvard University in the fall.  (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Montville High School senior Joshua Archibald on Tuesday, May 22, 2018, at the school's courtyard. Archibald, who is a member of the choir and class president, is headed to Harvard University in the fall. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Montville — The birthday party was in another room but the singing echoed through the high school hallways.

Senior Joshua Archibald casually broke an interview to listen and offer a quick assessment: "That's fairly in tune," he said, smiling.

After more than a dozen years singing, performing and practicing, Archibald certainly knows what's in tune.

As a choir singer who's "never taken a voice lesson," Archibald's performed at Eastern Regionals since sixth grade, the All-State music festival the last two years and the All-National festival last November. He started singing as a child and still recalls a solo and choreography "they drilled into me every day" for a second-grade play.

Archibald credits his family for pushing him to continue singing, Tyl Middle School teacher Judy Abrams for showing him "the basics of how to make my voice sound good," and high school choir director Josh Cushing for teaching him music theory, how to read sheet music and how to hear someone sing and almost instantly know all the notes.

In eighth grade, when his voice started to change, "Josh went from soprano to alto to baritone seamlessly in about four weeks. He never lost his intonation or pitch perception," Abrams said. She described him as a "great singer. Great student. A nice person. Fun. Positive."

"Singing made him much more confident," Abrams added. "He went from a quiet student ... to outgoing, goofing with people and having fun."

The humble 18-year-old heads to Harvard University in the fall, picking Cambridge over New Haven, where the Yalies, he said, weren't as friendly. He's considering work-study in a church choir and joining an acapella group while studying for a potential career in law or journalism.

After serving in student government for four years in Montville — he's class president this year, and a student representative to the Board of Education — Archibald says he sees himself joining the Peace Corps or working with a nongovernmental organization before eventually running for public office.

The self-aware student admitted, "Obviously, I'm going to change my mind, but those are my current goals."

Joel Finnegan, a longtime social studies teacher, said it was largely Archibald who inspired him to offer an Advanced Placement government course this year.

"In political science, some kids have certain preconceptions," Finnegan said. "But he's willing to listen to those who have opposing viewpoints, and willing to change his mind if presented with evidence he finds convincing. That makes me hopeful about the future with this generation."

Proud to be part of Montville's success

At an April Board of Education meeting swarmed by media, parents and educators and amid talk of fighting and bullying at the high school, Archibald sparked boisterous applause by highlighting his pride of Montville's achievements.

"We have nationally ranked football players, lacrosse players, singers. We have kids going to Yale, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and MIT," he said this week. "The fact that we have all that is almost prep school level, and that we're able to have that level of achievement at a public school that's losing funding is amazing."

Archibald said he'd miss the teachers and friends he's made in Montville but not necessarily "the political climate" in town.

While he hasn't experienced bullying in Montville, as a gay student, he acknowledged, "I've overheard comments I don't appreciate."

That said, by just being himself, he believes he may have helped change the culture at Montville High School.

"I think I've been able to command a certain amount of respect because of the qualities I exhibit as a human being beyond just being gay," he said. "To some extent, people have even learned, 'Oh, he's normal.' Some people have grown to accept gay people because I'm out. It's a good feeling knowing that potentially, five years from now, there will be a gay kid walking down these halls who's not going to hear comments that are unsavory."

Archibald said when he's asked about ways to reverse apathy among young people, he struggles to answer because it's "a problem that I don't think exists. I think students are engaged. But we're just not as a society willing to listen to them."

Archibald helped lead Montville students' passionate response on National Walkout Day in the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

"This is one of the most troubling issues of our time," he said. "I don't think you can separate politics from the issue."

For him, that day was about "nonpartisan civic engagement and getting involved — all of those things people should do to be an engaged member of society."

Archibald might join one of Harvard's many community service organizations, and hopes to join the Harvard Crimson after writing and editing for The Chieftain in Montville. He also plans to continue working in information technology; he's programmed English projects, school events and designed websites, including one for Abrams' gospel quartet.

But he also needs time to sleep, study and check out the Boston area.

"They recommend you don't take too many extracurriculars, because you'll die," he joked.

b.kail@theday.com

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